D&D 5E Skill Challenges in 5E

Lord Zardoz

Explorer
For those that like them, Skill Challenges offer a way to resolve a scenario that is not combat based, but is also more dependent on the abilities of the character then they are on the ability of the ideas player, particularly when it is not possible or reasonable to resolve the problem by hitting it with an axe, talking, or running away. More importantly, they provide a definitive failure condition that is not necessarily death. Players are likely to keep talking and trying until they achieve perfect success.

To me the biggest problem with 4th Edition's Skill Challenges is that they have an alarming tendency to devolve into 'let the guy with the maxed skill for this challenge make every damn check'. Preventing that is critical to making them engaging.

Time limited challenges are good; someone said something about 5 successes within 3 rounds is better than 5 successes before 3 failures. I like that. The other way is to make sure that each failure has a concrete cost (ie, loss of HP or Healing Surge) and to require each player to make checks and require set number of success for each player present. If the guy who used Str as a stat dump for his Wizard is also required to make Athletics checks or suffer HP / Surge Loss, the group will start to brain storm ways for him to not fail his checks.

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pemerton

Legend
To me the biggest problem with 4th Edition's Skill Challenges is that they have an alarming tendency to devolve into 'let the guy with the maxed skill for this challenge make every damn check'. Preventing that is critical to making them engaging.
A key feature of skill challenges is that there is no mechanically active opposition. All the opposition to the PCs has to come simply from the GM's narration. Therefore, if you want multiple PCs involved you have to narrate opposition to them. Then they will start doing things!
 

Majoru Oakheart

Adventurer
A key feature of skill challenges is that there is no mechanically active opposition. All the opposition to the PCs has to come simply from the GM's narration. Therefore, if you want multiple PCs involved you have to narrate opposition to them. Then they will start doing things!
The issue here is that some scenarios lend themselves to this WAY more than others. For instance, one of the first Skill Challenges I saw written was in a year one Living Forgotten Realms adventure:

Find the stolen goods somewhere in Baldur's Gate.
It had a number of "scenes" written out and in each scene you needed to get at least one success before you could move on to the next scene. The scenes were all going to a different location and asking for information. You would ask around about fences who might have the stolen goods and if someone in the group succeeded in a Diplomacy/Bluff/Intimidate check, you'd be told to go to a Shoe Repair shop that was used as a front for the thieves guild. If you went there and succeeded in a Diplomacy/Bluff/Intimidate or Thievery check you would be told to go to a Tavern. There was a fence with an Orc bodyguard. If you could succeed in a Athletics check to beat the Orc in arm wrestling or Acrobatics to beat the fence in darts he'd tell you that he didn't have the goods and there was another fence who likely had them. The other fence would refuse to tell you anything but if you succeeded in a Perception or Insight check you'd find out that he was lying.

It was slightly more branching than that and you could go a number of different ways, all of which would still end up at the correct fence at the end.

This was held up as an example of one of the best skill challenges to be printed in year one of Living Forgotten Realms. The problem is that since the PCs drive the story, there is no way to force any particular PC to make the checks in question. The best PC will always be the one making the check.
 

pemerton

Legend
This was held up as an example of one of the best skill challenges to be printed in year one of Living Forgotten Realms. The problem is that since the PCs drive the story, there is no way to force any particular PC to make the checks in question. The best PC will always be the one making the check.
Interesting. That doesn't seem that good to me personally - what is the point of the skill checks if, in the end, the PCs end up at the same point? This looks like an attempt to set up a GUMSHOE-style investigation within the 4e context, but GUMSHOE rations the use of abilities to get anything but the basic clues in a scene, and thereby stops any one player/PC dominating. Whereas, in the scenario you describe, it seems that the best PCs get unlimited use of their abilities.
 

Imaro

Legend
Mostly (though "nothing at all" is too strong). If you read the example skill challenge in the Essentials book, that is how it works when the 3rd failure occurs.

And here is an example from p 77 of the DMG:
Jarret: I’m going to try to handle this with diplomacy. My good Duke, if you grant our petition for aid,
it will not only help us complete our quest, but it will also secure your duchy from the ravages of the goblin horde for a season or more. Surely you can see the sense of that. (Makes a Diplomacy skill check and gets a success.)

Duke: Hmm, well said. I do remember the Battle of Cantle Hill. Nasty business. (The DM informs the players that the History skill can now be used to aid in this challenge.)

The narration of the success isn't in terms of the Duke being persuaded to help. It's in terms of opening up a new opportunity.

The narration still references the specific task that was attempted by the player. The duke's answer is a direct reply to what was said by the PC in the fiction, and the task itself was a success or failure of the diplomacy check. The fact that the outcome isn't narrated as persuading the duke is purely based on the fact that X successes haven't been reached before Y failures. However the narration does directly refer to the action taking for that particular event/task.

Can you reference some rules text here?

DMG p 72:
The difference between a combat challenge and a skill challenge isn’t the presence or absence of physical
risk, nor the presence or absence of attack rolls and damage rolls and power use. The difference is in how the encounter treats PC actions.​

Nothing here about absence of partial success or partial failure.

Wait a minute, so your argument is that because the book doesn't explicitly call out that there are no partial successes or failures (even though there are no rules for such things) means there must be partial successes and failures in SC's... I call B.S.

DMG pp 74, 76 (under headings about "Consequences"):
What happens if the characters successfully complete the challenge? What happens if they fail?

When the skill challenge ends, reward the characters for their success (with challenge-specific rewards, as well as experience points) or assess penalties for their failure. .​

Ok, right there in your last quoted sentence... success = rewards/ failure = penalties in a SC...did you also read these parts from pg. 74...

"...other conditions can impose a sense of urgency on a skill challenge or comprise part of the penalty for failing a skill challenge. (nothing about penalties when succeeding)

"If you put up a monetary cost on the challenge (as in the example of the ogre mercenaries), try to make up that cost in treasure if the characters succeed at the challenge. If they fail, the cost is part of the penalty they pay."

Both of these statements strongly imply negative consequences should only be carried forward if the SC fails and they are part of the fail condition (binary), otherwise this seems to suggest consequences should be mitigated or counteracted if the PC's actually end up succeeding at the SC, not that there should be "partial successes".

If the characters fail the challenge, the story still has to move forward, but in a different direction and possibly by a longer, more dangerous route. You can think of it like a room in a dungeon. If the characters can’t defeat the dragon in that room, they don’t get the experience for killing it or the treasure it guards, and they can’t go through the door on the opposite side of the room. They might still be able to get to the chamber behind the door, but by taking a different and more arduous path. In the same way, failure in a skill challenge should send the characters down a different route in the adventure, but not derail them entirely. .

No one's arguing against this, what's being argued against is the limited definition being ascribed to fail forward which for some seems to mean "always succeed (even when the roll fails) but with complications"...

Skill challenges have consequences, positive and negative, just as combat encounters do. . .

I didn't argue against this either... SC's have binary success and failure consequences that are pre-defined as part of their structure while combats can be built like this but don't have to be... that was my point.

Success or failure in a skill challenge also influences the course of the adventure—the characters locate the temple and begin infiltrating it, or they get lost and must seek help. In either case, however, the adventure continues. With success, this is no problem, but don’t fall into the trap of making progress dependent on success in a skill challenge. Failure introduces complications rather than ending the adventure. If the characters get lost in the jungle, that leads to further challenges, not the end of the adventure.

Yet in Majoru Oakheart's example the adventure didn't stop. Always succeeding is not the same as failing forward.​

I don't see anything there about the resolution of the challenge - including checks made, and narration thereof - having no effect on the outcome. In a 10/3 challenge to navigate through the jungle, for instance, it strikes me as obvious that the "more arduous" path would be different depending on whether the 3rd failure came after zero successes or 9 successes. And also that a group who arrives at the temple after 10 successes and no failures might be in better shape than one which arrives after 10 successes but 2 failures.

Yet at the end of the day in a 10/3 challenge you could get 9 successes and still fail the overall challenge by getting 3 successive failures afterwards... which would be a failure (not a partial success or partial failure of the SC). It's a simple as that. You can add all these conditions and new goals outside the SC structure to make it work differently but in the end these are your houserules, not how SC's in the DMG1 are presented.

Under ths conception of what counts as a goal, could you give an example of a partial success? I would have thought getting only half one's men home might count.

There are no partial successes in SC's by raw... Nowhere is one of the steps assign partial success conditions and partial failure conditions... nowhere are there guidelines for how many X successes vs. Y failures equal a partial success or failure. Thus the answer to this question in the context of the SC is there are no partial successes so I can't give an example. Now a player could decide that was a partial success for himself or herself, but nothing in the rules designates it as such. If you get home then you succeeded on the SC and as implied above should have youre resources (the men) replenished in some way... if you fail then you've failed and less men becomes part of the failure condition of the SC.
 

Imaro

Legend
In addition to the fact that the stated guidelines for skill challenges specify that not getting home would be, de facto, stopping the adventure, which is clearly not the intent of the guidelines to begin with. So the consequences of failure should obviously not be that he can't make it home.

Making the success/failure on the skill challenge binary is obviously not the intent of the guidelines.

Ok, the only way not succeeding in getting home would stop the adventure is if the GM designed the adventure with only one available path and only one available source of adventure (bad adventure design, IMO). What if he fails to make it home but lands on an island where there is still opportunity to get home but now he must explore and discover it? Adventure is still taking place, nothing stalled, but he didn't make it home. Again, it seems like this is a very limited view of fail forward.

I think making it binary was very much the intent so that it is clear whether success was achieved and whether the SC is over or not.
 
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Starfox

Hero
Time limited challenges are good; someone said something about 5 successes within 3 rounds is better than 5 successes before 3 failures. I like that. The other way is to make sure that each failure has a concrete cost (ie, loss of HP or Healing Surge) and to require each player to make checks and require set number of success for each player present.

Like this part very much.

If the guy who used Str as a stat dump for his Wizard is also required to make Athletics checks or suffer HP / Surge Loss, the group will start to brain storm ways for him to not fail his checks.

Don't like this part much. Forcingplayers to depend on their weakest abilities is demeaning. Yes, a dump stat should matter, but mainly in reducing options. A step in a skill challenge to pass a 20 ft. wall is good - it can be tackled in a number of ways. A skill challenge step to make a Climb (DC 20) is bad, because it has no narrative meaning. There must always be other things you can do, not the least of which is to depend on your team. Spider climb, ropes, "I use my Diplomacy to encourage McBrute over here to boost me up the wall", whatever. There needs to be options. A climb score of -2 removes that as an option, but should not be an absolute barrier to most tasks.
 

Starfox

Hero
The issue here is that some scenarios lend themselves to this WAY more than others. For instance, one of the first Skill Challenges I saw written was in a year one Living Forgotten Realms adventure:

Find the stolen goods somewhere in Baldur's Gate.
It had a number of "scenes" written out and in each scene you needed to get at least one success before you could move on to the next scene. The scenes were all going to a different location and asking for information. .

This is not a skill challenge. This is an adventure written up in the pattern of a skill challenge. It uses very little of the skill challenge rules.
 

Warbringer

Explorer
Time limited challenges are good; someone said something about 5 successes within 3 rounds is better than 5 successes before 3 failures. I like that. The other way is to make sure that each failure has a concrete cost (ie, loss of HP or Healing Surge) and to require each player to make checks and require set number of success for each player present. If the guy who used Str as a stat dump for his Wizard is also required to make Athletics checks or suffer HP / Surge Loss, the group will start to brain storm ways for him to not fail his checks.

END COMMUNICATION

Exactly ... Which reminds me i owe [MENTION=2303]Starfox[/MENTION] a post
 


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